That was pretty good. I do believe Sky TV might be starting to get the hang of this. That was a proper story with a beginning, a middle, an end and most importantly a second episode that didn't lose the plot and so neither bored the audience (Hogfather
) nor drove them out of their minds (The Colour of Magic
). It doesn't have the coolness factor of Hogfather
because it doesn't have Death in it, but nonetheless I'd say it's the most solid Discworld adaptation we've seen to date.
There's still a "but" of course, which this time is a slightly surprising one. It's a shame about David Suchet. I hadn't expected to be saying those words, but there you are. I'm not saying that the guy's not a good actor and capable of better, of course. If it hadn't been for him then I'd have been embracing this adaptation wholeheartedly, but unfortunately he's ripening up his performance and giving us a bit of a panto villain. Oh, he's not terrible. He doesn't offend the sensibilities and he's entertaining. However is he scary? No. Is he finding any depth in the character, for instance in Reacher Gilt's piratical nature or the fact he's another con-artist and fraudster just like Moist Von Lipwig? No, he isn't. Would he fit into a Scooby Doo episode? Yes, he would.
What particularly annoys me is that this is one of Pratchett's thoughtful stories and he's clearly setting out to explore ideas (in this case to do with the Post Office), yet Suchet's Gilt is such a straw man that he undermines the story's arguments by failing to challenge them. You can't present a debate if there's only one side turning up. This story is clearly defending the idea of traditional postal services, but it's not clear what it's comparing them with. The internet? Not really, despite playful similarities (e.g. the hackers). Okay, is it about a government-funded public service versus the iniquities of capitalism? That might seem to be a closer match, although the analogy falls down a bit if one considers private delivery companies, but unfortunately Reacher Gilt isn't really representative of anything except himself. He's evil. He's not really running the company of which he's chairman, but pretty much looting it. It's certainly true that he's embodying the flaws of a certain kind of short-term capitalist, but it would be as ridiculous to equate him with market economies as it would be to equate socialism with Stalin. He's only convincing here because the Discworld is, to put it mildly, socio-economically anarchic.
Suchet isn't helping with all this. He had a choice. He could have tried to give a bit more intelligence and weight to Gilt, but instead he's making him out to be a buffoon and so we hardly bother listening to his opinions. The eyepatch and facial hair won't have helped either. It's a shame. However as I said, he's perfectly watchable and there's plenty of good stuff when he's not on-screen.
My favourite was Charles Dance as the Patrician. I liked Jeremy Irons too in The Colour of Magic
, but Dance is a revelation. The guy's terrifying and to me he seemed a considerably nastier customer than I ever imagined the Patrician being in the original novels. Pratchett makes things feel fluffy. Dance is like a great white shark swimming towards your leg.
Oh, and while I'm picking on specific actors, I liked Timothy West's take on Mustrum Ridcully. There's nothing wacky or Children's BBC about him, unlike his predecessors in the role like Joss Ackland and Graham Crowden. Obviously Crowden is a demigod, but even so I really appreciated the down-to-earth-ness of West.
Broadly speaking though, for Pratchett this feels a bit harder-edged than usual. It starts with the hero. Moist Von Lipwig (Richard Coyle) is a con-man who goes around lying, stealing and ripping people off. I wasn't encouraged. I don't like con-men. Fortunately though it turns out that Pratchett doesn't like them either, which means that our Mr Lipwig is in for an exceptionally rough ride and a bit of plain speaking. If Going Postal really is about capitalism as much as it is about just the postal service, then through Lipwig we even have criticism of the banking crisis and misplaced confidence in the banking system. That's startlingly prescient for a book that came out in 2004, although admittedly it's not as if we hadn't already had things like the fall of Barings Bank in 1995. All that I liked, but I also liked the way Pratchett's giving us an untrustworthy protagonist with some bite to him who'll need a bit (or a lot) of cudgelling to get him going the way you want. When giving his sales pitch, he's even funny.
Those are some of the most important characters. Others include Adora Belle Dearheart, who's okay but (fairly or otherwise) felt like another Icy Pratchett Heroine like Death's granddaughter Susan. Something about them seems to rub me up the wrong way, but I have to admit that she had a lovely little scene with John Henshaw and its follow-up in the scene with the ledgers was genuinely moving.
Finally Andrew Sachs and Ian Bonar are an absolute joy as the post office staff and I couldn't possibly choose a favourite out of them. Sachs reminded me a little of Fawlty Towers, but in a good way, while Bonar is possibly the best-cast Pratchett character to date. He's adorable.
I like the way they've realised the Discworld. Dickensian fantasy is something we don't see enough of, although the Harry Potter films dabble in it a little. However they've also created a world that's also flexible enough to throw in silent movies, Murnau's Nosferatu, unusual mythology (banshees, golems) and pseudo-Westerns as a gang holds up the stagecoach... hmmm. Did they ever do anything with that latter plot thread? The haunted post office was rather nicely done too, I thought.
Obviously it's simplified from the book. There's no Mr Tiddles, for instance. However it's an intelligent adaptation that understands dramatic structure and doesn't fall apart in part two. That's noteworthy for a Sky TV Pratchett adaptation. The part one cliffhanger is really good on more than one level, while the ending is really good and has some honest emotion to it. I've only got one real problem (David Suchet), but fortunately he can't suck out the story's intellectual content even if he does rather disperse its focus. I really liked Pump 19 and his fellow golems, for instance. It's rather good, I thought. I'd recommend it.